South Korea, UN join forces to expel Chinese boats

South Korean patrol boats conducting an operation to drive out illegal Chinese fishing boats from waters close to the disputed sea border with North Korea yesterday.
South Korean patrol boats conducting an operation to drive out illegal Chinese fishing boats from waters close to the disputed sea border with North Korea yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Move comes after repeated incursions by Chinese in estuary between two Koreas

SEOUL • South Korea and the United Nations Command (UNC), which oversees the Korean War armistice, have said they have begun a joint operation to keep Chinese fishing vessels from operating illegally off the west coast.

The move comes after South Korean fishermen, frustrated with incursions by Chinese fishing boats in defiance of coast guard warnings, used rope to impound two Chinese trawlers this month and handed them over to the authorities.

South Korea's navy and coast guard joined the UNC to patrol the approximately 60km stretch of waters in the Han River estuary that runs between the coasts of the rival Koreas, a Defence Ministry official told Reuters yesterday.

"Our navy, coast guard and UN Command set up a military police to enter into an operation to expel Chinese fishing vessels," said the official.

North Korea had been notified of the team's operation as a safety precaution, an official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff said separately.

North and South Korea are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in the armistice, not a peace treaty.

South Korea has repeated its complaint to China about illegal fishing by Chinese trawlers since the capture of the two vessels, but yesterday, more than 10 Chinese boats were sighted fishing in the estuary.

South Korea has repeated its complaint to China about illegal fishing by Chinese trawlers since the capture of the two vessels, but yesterday, more than 10 Chinese boats were sighted fishing in the estuary.

The boats fled to areas near North Korea's shore after the South Korean-UN operation began, the Joint Chiefs of Staff official said.

There was no immediate comment from the Chinese Foreign Ministry when contacted by phone.

The waters are near the Northern Limit Line, the maritime border disputed by the North, which has been the scene of deadly naval clashes between the rival Koreas and violent confrontation between South Korea's coast guard and Chinese fishing vessels.

Separately, dozens of fish species have disappeared or are on the verge of being lost from the Philippines, a marine biodiversity hot spot, an environmental group said yesterday, citing a new study.

Fishermen reported that 59 coral reef species have gone missing from catches since the 1950s, according to the study conducted by Haribon, one of the Philippines' oldest conservation groups, and Britain's Newcastle University.

It based its findings on interviews with 2,600 fishermen across the Philippines, which has one of the highest concentrations of marine species in the world.

Overfishing to meet the demands of a fast-growing population and Chinese restaurants around the region was a key factor in the decline, according to Mr Gregorio dela Rosa, a marine biologist with Haribon.

"These species are usually served in restaurants... They command a high price. If you have lots of mouths to feed, you need lots of fish to catch," he said.

The Philippines' population has grown to more than 100 million people, from about 20 million in the 1950s.

Mr dela Rosa said demand from China added to pressure from the local market.

"It has a very big impact because most of our fish are exported to China, and also Singapore and Hong Kong.

"The groupers are highly prized, especially the red ones which are in demand in Chinese wedding (receptions)," he said.

The Philippines is part of the Coral Triangle, an area of water spanning Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands, that is known as the global centre of marine biodiversity.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline 'South Korea, UN join forces to expel Chinese boats'. Print Edition | Subscribe